- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A $500,000 roof on a Louisville domestic violence shelter threatened to derail the state’s $20 billion two-year state spending plan for health care, education and public safety.

Democratic state Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, wants state taxpayers to pay $500,000 to replace a roof on the Center for Women and Families in Louisville.

But Republican state Sen. Bob Leeper, R-Paducah, removed that money from the budget, saying it is the Senate’s policy not to include pet projects with no statewide impact in the two-year state spending plan.

“Congratulations to you,” Clark shot back. “I’ve still got a heart.”

With that, House and Senate lawmakers angrily walked away from the negotiating table with little progress after two days of budget talks. Lawmakers tried again Friday evening, meeting for four hours before adjourning in time to watch the University of Kentucky play the University of Louisville in the NCAA basketball tournament.

“I think it’s pretty normal,” House budget chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said of the contentious meetings. “At some point the dam breaks and the water flows. I think that’s probably where we are.”

After hours of unproductive talks, House and Senate leaders met privately for about an hour Friday night before deciding to adjourn until the morning. Senate budget chairman Bob Leeper, an independent from Paducah, said he expects lawmakers will have a few more private meetings before coming to a final agreement sometime Saturday night.

“There are conversations that are had that are obviously private, and that’s part of the process and has been since I’ve been here for 24 years,” Leeper said. “We’ve tried to develop a process that’s more open, and I think we’ve done that. I think you’ll see us back out here in front of the cameras tomorrow.”

Lawmakers did agree on some small things Friday, including $250,000 to help poor law school students pay their tuition and requiring the Corrections Department to file a report every year about how it spends money made from sales at prison canteens.

But lawmakers have yet to agree on the more expensive items, including raises for public school teachers, a 1.5 cents per gallon increase in the gas tax and $64 million to renovate Rupp Arena in Lexington.

The budget includes $67 million for a 2 percent raise for the state’s roughly 100,000 teachers and support staff in the first year and a $107 million for a 1 percent raise in the second year. But the money is not enough to cover how much those raises would actually cost, meaning some school districts would have to make up the difference.

House Democrats want to make those raises mandatory, arguing school districts have enough flexibility in their budgets to cover the cost. But Senate Republicans say mandating raises for school districts that cannot afford them could lead to layoffs.

Stivers, the Republican Senate president, said he wants to help teachers, noting that his cousin - a teacher - sent him a text message during the debate asking him to help teachers.

“I don’t want to help my cousin right out of a job either,” he said.

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